Inter vs Napoli Throwback: When Maradona Bewitched San Siro

Inter vs Napoli used to be a true Serie A classic in the second half of the 1980s. Although the two sides went head-to-head to conquer the Scudetto on one occasion only – the 1988-89 season – seeing the Nerazzurri and the Partenopei face each other in those days always meant a pretty good show.

It was a clash between Napoli’s South American creativity – powered by Careca, Alemao and, of course, Diego Maradona – and the rigorous organization of Inter and their German outliers, first Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and then, a few years later, Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann.

Rummenigge and Maradona were the poster boys of the two sides that squared off on November 10, 1985. Inter vs Napoli was a high-tension match, as the events on the pitch would eventually confirm, but the world of football was different back then. And so, it was perfectly normal to see the two chit-chat before the game in front of a TV camera, guided by the expert hand of beloved TV commentator Gian Piero Galeazzi, who passed away just a few days ago.

After 9 Serie A rounds, Napoli and Inter had 12 point each and sat third in the table with a four-point gap from capolista Juventus, which the Partenopei had beaten just one week before. It was Maradona’s second season in Italy and El Pibe de Oro was literally on fire, putting together some of the best goals in his career.

Twenty days before, he had humiliated the Verona goalkeeper with an astonishing lob shot from 40 meters, propitiating a 5-0 demolition of the incumbent Serie A champions (yes, you got it right: Verona had won the Scudetto in the previous season!)

Then, the previous Sunday, he had painted what is arguably his most known masterpiece in the Italian top-flight: the “impossible free kick” against Juventus, with the ball taking an effect and a trajectory that still has no logic explanation to present day.

Inter coach Ilario Castagner knew that he had to stop the Argentine genius to hold the Partenopei and resorted to some old-school man marking, placing rough defender Giuseppe Baresi – the older, less famous brother of cross-town rivals Milan’s legend Franco – to block Maradona.

Ottavio Bianchi, the Napoli gaffer, answered with a similar move and deployed an equally tough Giuseppe Bruscolotti (who, just to give you an idea, was nicknamed “Iron Pole”) on Rummenigge’s trail.

Still, the German managed to escape Bruscolotti’s guard and created the most dangerous chance of the first half, dribbling past the Azzurri goalkeeper Claudio Garella and crossing the ball into the middle of the box where, thankfully for Napoli, there was no one ready to make the best of his effort.

At half time, the deadlock was still not broken despite Garella and his Inter counterpart Walter Zenga having had much work to do.

Powered by Roman striker Bruno Giordano, who had just joined them in the transfer market after 10 seasons with Lazio, the Partenopei went close to draw first blood right after the restart and it took a last-gasp clearance from Baresi right on the goal line to keep the score unchanged.

Not for long, however. On 49 minutes, Maradona put his stamp on the proceedings. And, what a beautiful one it was. From a Giordano cross coming from the right-hand side, El Pibe de Oro tamed the ball with his chest and put it past the hapless Zenga with a soft, yet lightning-fast left-foot caress to put Napoli in the lead.

It was the episode for which this game has gone down in history for, though there was still much more to happen at the San Siro Stadium. Inter’s Andrea Mandorlini hit the post with a deadly strike from outside the box, then Fulvio Collovati had one goal disallowed.

The home supporters started to become nervous and had the awful idea of starting to target Napoli’s goalkeeper Garella with multiple objects thrown from the stands. The iconic Garellik was even knocked down at some point but stoically decided to keep on playing. Referee Carlo Longhi struggled to keep things under control and expelled both Bruscolotti and Alessandro Altobelli as a scuffle ensued.

The match hit a dramatic peak on 66 minutes as Napoli striker Ruben Buriani was the victim of a horrific crash with Mandorlini, suffering a broken shinbone and leaving the pitch in tears.  

In the end, Inter managed to draw level from a penalty allowed for a foul from Argentine defender Daniel Bertoni on Collovati. It was Irishman Liam Brady, a former Arsenal stalwart who played in Italy since 1980, to bury the spot and salvage a point for the home side.

At the end of the season, Napoli maintained their third place in the table, six points below Scudetto winners Juventus, as they laid the groundwork for their successful Serie A campaign the next year. Inter, on the other hand, grabbed a disappointing sixth spot after an alleged conspiracy plotted by some of his own players overthrew their coach Castagner.

The top scorer title was won by Roma’s Roberto Pruzzo, who scored 5 of his 19 season goals in a single game against minnows Avellino. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ended second with 13 goals while Maradona tallied “only” 11 – though some of those, including his gem against Inter, became Serie A all-time classics.

Only a few months later, Maradona and Rummenigge would shake hands again in a hot Mexican summer day. This time, however, they were wearing their national sides jerseys and the match in question was the World Cup 1986 Final.


November 10, 1985 – Serie A 1985-86 Round 10

49′ Maradona (N), 73′ Brady (I, pen.)

INTER: Zenga, Bergomi, Marangon (59′ Selvaggi), Mandorlini, Collovati, Ferri, Fanna (75′ Cucchi), G. Baresi, Altobelli, Brady, Rummenigge (Lorieri, Rivolta, Pellegrini) Coach: Castagner
NAPOLI: Garella, Bruscolotti, Carannante, Celestini, Ferrario, Renica, Bertoni (76′ Caffarelli), Pecci, Giordano, Maradona, Buriani (66′ Favo) (Zazzaro, Maggiotto, Baiano) Coach: Bianchi

REFEREE: Mr. Longhi from Rome
NOTES: Red Cards: Altobelli (I), Bruscolotti (N)